Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: millions of heroes cared

In the Guardian, 2018 was the "year of the autocrat." Time's Persons of the Year were "The Guardians" amid the war on truth, journalists who were killed for the offense of trying to inform us.

For me, 2018 was the year I sojourned among heroes of democracy. For two months I had the privilege of organizing a short term volunteer program for the union UniteHERE on an independent expenditure campaign to ensure Nevada elected a new Democratic Senator and Governor. Two hundred twenty-five people joined us in Reno for two days, three days, or even a week at a time. We enabled them to spent quality shifts knocking on the doors of people who might not vote unless encouraged. Meanwhile 35 or more "volunteer organizers" (VOs), mostly union members, cooks, housekeepers, and catering workers, spent two long months living in an extended stay motel and walking those neighborhoods six days a week.

Volunteers and VOs struggled to use the data collection software; they discovered the sad truth of canvassing which is that hardly anyone is ever home; they got lost and warded off dogs and property managers who expelled them as threatening invaders. (Some even became proficient at sneaking into gated communities.) And their work paid off: Jacky Rosen was elected Nevada's new Senator and Steve Sisolak is the new Governor. Jon Ralston, the dean of Silver State pundits, concludes that Nevada is a "Democratic state for the foreseeable future."

Many of the short term volunteers were older, retired, and majority white. Who else has the time and freedom to travel to work on an election?

The VOs were mostly like the majority of workers you may have encountered in service jobs: younger, of color, and tough.

Scratch the surface in conversation with any of these people and the same theme emerged: "This year, in this time, I had to feel I had done something." For the older ones, they often wanted to be able to tell grandchildren that, in what they saw as a national emergency, they had tried. A reporter from the Washington Post found the same sentiments on another campaign:
“There’s a feeling out there of people saying, ‘I can’t sit out.’ Some people join the military to serve their country. Some people knock on doors to serve their country.”
A hard reality about episodes of heroism is that they aren't usually much fun in the moment. Oh, I've read accounts of election canvassing that make it sound fun. This canvasser enjoyed himself:
You learn a little bit about people when you politick them at their door. Mostly, you learn that they’re busy. They know the tax bill was wrong. They just don’t have time to yak about it. They have Little League games to get to. ...

The Trumpers, they were all right. They were perfectly polite in telling me to get lost. Maybe it’s only when people get on TV that they act nutty.

Democracy, it turns out, is fun. ...
I think my friend Dawn Oberg's experience in Reno, where she worked as a VO, was much more representative of the canvassing experience:
I won't sugar-coat it, I f**king HATE canvassing. I knew this going in. I'm doing it because studies show that's how you win elections, and Unite Here! (union I'm working with) pretty much won Nevada for Hillary in 2016. If I had known how stuff would turn out I would have canvassed then too.

People are mean to me every day. 100% of the shit I take is from white people, and 99% of that shit is from white women, middle-aged and older. Every bitchy, mean thing I've done in my life I am now paying for. Every. Damn. Day.

People, please never be mean to a canvasser. Even a Republican one. No one does it for money or fun. They don't enjoy bothering you. You don't have to answer the damned door. We go away after two knocks, and we'd really rather talk to your dog or cat.

We're doing this because we care about the world.... [This] is literally the most important thing I can do with my time until election day.
Thousands, millions, of us cared enough to work in the election in 2018. Not all of us could enjoy a win, not by a long shot. Georgia and Florida come to mind. But we did something -- because we cared.

The thing about democracy is that it is never done.
Canvasser training in progress.


Rain Trueax said...

Did you ever find out who paid the costs behind this effort? While the volunteers got nothing, it sounds like money was expended. Was it open who it was or one of those 'black' sites?

janinsanfran said...

Rain: as I say in the post, this was an independent expenditure by the union. That's often how unions do political work. Their members endorse via their representative structure (imperfect, but real); their staff organize.

Rain Trueax said...

And the union got their money from dues? I like to know these things and often finances are hard to trace due to the nature of donations. Follow the money often says a lot about what's happening and why.

I am interested in how this year will go with the House now firmly in the hands of one party. I suspect I'll be following the news less closely than I have, as when nothing can be done, it's all about irritation or upset. My life provides me enough of that without going looking for it. I have been very happy I quit doing the political blog and stick to Rainy Day Thoughts where I 'try' to keep it positive. Before, I felt compelled to comment on what was happening, and it didn't really help my bp or emotions. Once in a while I am tempted to thrust a political thought out, but I satisfy it by here or FB as I don't follow political writers beyond the big sites like Intercept, Federalist, Politico, Guardian, etc. I think I'll do less of them in '19.

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